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Q&A: Your rights in the British Airways strike

Sean Tipton of ABTA: "BA have efficient contingency plans in place for customers"
Union members at British Airways are going on strike from Saturday after talks to avert the stoppage broke down. The industrial action will last for three days from 20 March and four days from 27 March. This is the first walkout by British Airways cabin crew since 1997 and comes after plans for 12-day strike action over Christmas were blocked by a court injunction.

So how will individual travellers be affected?
I've got a flight booked with BA - what should I do? BA has been busy, trying to back up its promise to passengers that it will "do everything we can to protect your travel plans as far as possible". The seriousness of the disruption will depend on how many staff decide not to turn up to work on the strike days. Customers are advised to use their passenger reference number to check their booking on the BA website to see if their flight is still operating. BA says it is also informing affected customers by e-mail or text, using the contact details provided at the time of booking. It is asking passengers to make sure these details are correct and up-to-date.

Flights operating:
  • London City Airport: All flights from London City airport, including long-haul services to New York
  • Gatwick: Flights outside Europe (BA 2000 - BA 2299) will operate normally but about 50% of short-haul flights will be cancelled
  • Heathrow: Plans to operate 60% of long-haul and 30% of short-haul schedule. Some flights will operate normally, some will fly with a "different style" of cabin service, but others will be cancelled
The airline says it is trying to ensure that 65% of its customers get away as planned, though some will have to fly on planes with as many as 65 other airlines.

At the moment, passengers whose flights are scheduled between 19 March and 31 March 2010 can:
  • Rebook onto another BA flight to the same destination within 355 days of the original date of travel
  • Cancel the booking and get a refund.Full details will be put on the BA website. In general, customers are extremely unlikely to have any extra claim for compensation, because the cancellation is not "within the airline's control".
What about all those extra holiday costs?
A cancelled holiday means potential losses over other holiday costs such as car hire and hotels.

The background to the dispute
If you booked a package holiday, then the travel agent or operator has a responsibility to provide all the elements of that package. So customers should contact their agent or operator as soon as possible after the strike dates are announced. The agent or operator will try to find alternative flights but, if that is not possible, will refund the cost of the whole package holiday.

The Atol protection scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority does not kick in because this is designed for when a tour operator goes out of business. For those who booked the separate elements of their holiday themselves, the picture is slightly more gloomy.

If their holiday is cancelled, they will need to try to claim the extra costs through their travel insurance. Alternatively, if it was booked on a credit card, then they might have a claim through their credit card provider for costs of over £100. This comes under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act explained on the Office of Fair Trading website.

What happens now?
As well as the strike dates already set, more strike dates are planned for later in April. The way BA plans to deal with the disruption will be one of the first examples of the use of text messages to keep customers abreast of how their particular flight is affected.

There are other issues related to timing.
Buying a second ticket with an alternative airline now, only to find that the strike is cancelled or alternative flights found, would leave a passenger with two tickets and no right to a refund.

Anyone who tries to claim for holiday costs through their insurance, if their flight is cancelled, would need to have bought the policy and made their bookings before the strike dates were announced, the Association of British Insurers says.

The small print in the insurance documents will explain exactly what cover is offered in the event of a strike delaying or cancelling flights. Some insurers might give some leeway, so travellers should talk to their insurance company.

The Association of British Insurers has guidance about buying travel insurance.

If your flight is seriously delayed, it would be worth getting some written confirmation of the length of delay if you decide to claim on travel insurance.

Other airlines say that they will find alternative carriers if they have an agreement to use BA flights for connecting services.

Source: BBC World News